6. Argument from Reason

by Blake

The Argument from Reason shows that the Naturalist worldview is false because it is self-refuting.  The argument was first popularized by C.S. Lewis in the third chapter of his book, Miracles.  Naturalism, according to Lewis is the belief “that the ultimate Fact, the thing you can’t go behind, is a vast process in space and time which is going on of its own accord.”  To the Naturalist, this world is nothing but it’s physical components and everything that happens is a necessary effect of a series of causes.  Everything that happens, therefore, is part of a long cause-and-effect chain and nothing (like a decision or a belief) can be newly introduced into this chain.  Every action is just the inevitable next step of previous causes – even our own actions; even our own beliefs.

This idea is known as Determinism: for everything that happens there are conditions such that given those conditions, nothing else could happen.  Therefore, every seemingly free choice along with every seemingly well reasoned belief is actually just the necessary outcome of a long series of causes that were in the works since the beginning of time.

Here’s the funny thing about Determinism, though: The Determinist believes he has no choice in whether or not to be a Determinist.

True reason presupposes freedom because it is the consideration of different beliefs followed by the use of logic to select one.  If there is no such thing as free reason to distinguish between true beliefs and false beliefs, then you should not trust your reason.  According to Determinism, when we reason to a false belief, there is no possible way, given the relevant causes, that we could have avoided this conclusion because we were not freely reasoning even though it seemed as if we were.

C.S. Lewis refers to this problem of a belief being an inevitable effect rather than free reason when he says, “How could such a trifle as lack of logical grounds prevent the belief’s occurrence and how could the existence of grounds promote it?”

Think about the scientist in the lab performing an experiment.  He examines the results of the experiment and comes to a reasoned conclusion that is false.  According to Determinism, there is no possible way that that scientist could have come to a reasoned conclusion that is true.  He necessarily comes to believe a falsehood based upon real and valid evidence.

The Argument from Reason points out that if this is how the world works, then you cannot rely on your reason – not even the reason that led you to a belief in Naturalism.  It is self-refuting.

The Naturalist, in spite of his direct experience of free reason (we all agree that it at least feels like we have this freedom), cannot fit a freely reasoning mind into his worldview and so he awkwardly squeezes it into the same category in which he puts all other objects of the physical world: he considers it just another piece of inert machinery that is part of the overall workings of the mechanistic universe.  He comes to believe that all events, including the formation of his own beliefs, was unchangeably set since the beginning of time to necessarily come about.  If this is the case, then he necessarily arrived at the worldview of Naturalism – whether it is true or not.